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Two Novel Legal Theories Work!

A large paper mill in South Georgia was sold to a Mexican corporation. At the time of the sale, much of the paper mill’s equipment was fifty years old and did not contain modern safety features, such as electronic eyes, trip rods, barrier guards or gates, or other similar equipment which keeps employees’ hands and legs out of moving machinery. Shortly after the sale, both arms of a black male, from the elbows down, were crushed in a machine. His arms were saved but today they have almost no function. Despite extensive surgery to save the limbs, to build in cosmetic muscles, to treat the skin like third degree burns with skin grafts, and to release the tendons in the fingers to try to regain some movement, our client has almost no use of his arms and has no ability to sweat or feel sensation in his skin below the elbows.

A number of months later, a white male in his twenties was caught in another piece of equipment at the same plant. Unfortunately, our client’s arms were amputated just below the elbows. Mr. S now has myoelectric prostheses (artificial arms below the elbows which contain some electronic movement).

The law provides that an employed individual gets worker’s compensation benefits, which consist of payment of medical bills and a portion of lost wages but no money for pain and suffering from their employer. In exchange for getting these meager benefits, the employee is not allowed to sue his employer, even if the accident was his employer’s fault! Thus, several law firms turned down representation of these individuals because these individuals could not sue their current employer. The firms were not aware of any legal theory in which the former employer or anyone else could be sued for money beyond that which was paid by the worker’s compensation system.

Wilbur & Owens researched the issues and found that there were a pair of theories that could potentially be used for a recovery but these theories had never been used in Georgia. Some other states had addressed these same issues. Some of the states had ruled that the theories were valid but others had rejected the theories. Thus, we decided to try the theories, understanding that if we lost, we would lose at least $50,000 of expenses in each case and receive no attorney’s fees.

The former owner of the plant was sued under the theory that the plant was sold in a defective condition to the new employer. Thus, it was argued that the prior employer and owner of the plant was liable for injuries caused by the defective condition of the plant up through the time that the new employer knew, or should have known, of the defective conditions plus the time it would take to remedy same. Georgia had never addressed the liability of a former owner of a plant for selling a plant which contained unsafe equipment. In other words, shouldn’t the owner of equipment only sell it if it is safe, or at least be required to tell the purchaser of the safety hazards before someone operated the equipment and was injured?

This required suing the former employer of our clients. Georgia law had never addressed the issue of whether a former employer could be sued or whether that claim would be barred by worker’s compensation. We took the position that, once the employment relationship ended, an individual could sue their former employer. We additionally argued that the theory of liability was based upon the sale of the plant and was not based upon the employer/employee relationship. Defendant in both cases took the position that Georgia does not recognize any liability for the sale of a plant in a defective condition and that an individual could not sue their former employer where the defects in the plant occurred during the time of that employment relationship. Thus, Defendant argued that worker’s compensation bars suits against the former employer.

The Defendant filed summary judgment on these grounds in both cases, as well as on an additional ground in one of the cases. In a 37-page ruling by a federal district judge, the court held that an individual can sue based upon an obligation of a prior owner of a plant to sell his facility in a safe condition, or, if not safe, to warn the new owner and employees of the hazards. That former owner would then be liable for injuries caused by those defective conditions up through the period of time that the new owner knew, or should have known, of the hazardous conditions plus a reasonable period of time to remedy same.

Our firm hired former Occupational Safety and Health Administrative inspectors to testify about inspecting the plant, what the defects were throughout the plant, and how long it should have taken for the new owner to discover and repair the particular defects which injured our clients. We also used medical doctors to prove past and future medical care and a life care planner to calculate specific future medical needs and the cost of same, as well as modifications for cars, homes, vehicles, etc. We hired an economist to project future medical inflation to coincide with the dates that the future medical care would be needed and then reduced these figures to a present value by using a discount figure. Additionally, we hired a human factors expert to testify concerning the lack of understanding that these individuals had of these dangers and why that resulted in their injury. Thus, it is necessary to have safety features because individuals cannot keep their hands out of dangerous machinery where they are near it on thousands of occasions. Eventually, one will stumble or not be quick enough and will get caught in unguarded moving machinery.

Eventually both cases settled for millions of dollars, one of them a few days before the start of trial.

Contact a lawyer after being injured at no fault of your own

To learn how we can help you after being injured, call us at 912-212-2100 or click here.

Reviews From Our Clients
  • "I was pregnant and injured in an automobile accident. Mr. Owens, personally, came to the hospital. He told me he would handle everything, I just needed to get healthy for the baby and myself. Mr. Owens did everything he said he would. I highly recommend Owens and Mulherin. Everyone in their office is friendly and informative. You're not just another client with them, they genuinely care." - Lindsay Chadwick

  • "Highly recommend working with this group!! They are very friendly, understanding, caring people and very easy to talk to. They Gave us plenty of time to talk with them. Did not make us feel rushed and explained everything thoroughly. Made the experience the best possible and we had a positive outcome during a tragic time. Thank you to the attorneys and entire staff." - Cindy Shuman

  • "I found Mr. Owens to be very professional and extremely sympathetic towards my needs as a result of my injuries. His experience helped guide me through my case and we ultimately won in the end...settled out of court! Thanks for all your help!" - Diane Calahan

  • "Following an automobile accident I sought representation from Wil Owens. Throughout the process he and his staff were always very kind, informative, and diligent in protecting my rights and interests. I knew my case was minor comparatively speaking, however, they never minimized the importance of my situation or claim. I would highly recommend this local law firm!!Sincerely,Christi (Fry) Vinyard" - Christi Fry

  • "This was my first time having to get an attorney and my experience was great. They make sure you fully understand everything that's going on and make sure the case is settled in your favor. I highly recommend this attorney office if you need one." - Dee James

  • "Absolutely 100% the best law firm around. I was completely blown away by the staff with all their generosity and helpfulness every step of the way. Wilbur Owens is hands down the best attorney I have ever met. He was caring, professional, and helpful in all aspects of my case, from the very begining with all my treatments to the very end with my settlement. He was highly recommend to me and I have heard nothing but great things about him and his firm. They truly are the best around and if ths need were to arise again in the future I will gladly come to the law firm of Owens and Mulherin. Wonderful people and they gave me my life back as well as piece of mind, and for that I am and always will be truly thankful." - Courtney Graves

  • "I had a good experience with Mr. Owens and Ms. Teresa. They were very professional and was on point. It was a long process but it was worth the wait. I would recommend anyone to this lawfirm." - Ashley Robertson

  • "My thanks to Mr. Owens and his crew. After getting injured at work , and not knowing what to do I found them thru a local web search. Everyone in the office was great, Will walked me thru my case and explained how it would go. After everything I would highly recommend this law firm. I can't say enough of Mr. Owens and his staff . Thank you for your help!" - Mark Kalla

  • "I worked with Mr. Ownens and his team for my most recent accident involving 2 uninsured motorists, and I am extremely pleased with the way my case was worked, as well as the outcome. I cannot say anything negative about the law firm whatsoever, but I can tell you that being hit by uninsured vehicles is a nightmare." - Nic Schuman

  • "Loved working with me. Mulherin. Didn’t make me feel rushed or pinned against a wall. He gave me the beat and worse case scenario. Went to bat for me when the insurance company thought they could get away with being cheap. Brooke was amazing to work with to. Always answered calls or emails in a timely manner." - Natasha Campbell

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Wilbur D. Owens Attorney Photo
Wilbur D. Owens

Mr. Owens devotes his practice exclusively to representing plaintiffs in personal injury and wrongful death claims. His primary focus is automobile/tractor-trailer accidents, dog bites, slip/trip and falls, medical malpractice, injuries from dangerous products, job injuries and nursing home abuse. Before joining forces with Mr. Mulherin to open Owens & Mulherin in 2001, Mr. Owens worked…

Joseph A. Mulherin Attorney Photo
Joseph A. Mulherin

Mr. Mulherin represents individuals in personal injury cases. His primary practice areas are automobile accidents, tractor-trailer collisions, medical malpractice claims and workplace injuries. Before forming Owens & Mulherin with Mr. Owens in 2001, Mr. Mulherin practiced at Bouhan, Williams & Levy, LLP, from 1984 - 2000, representing both plaintiffs and defendants in personal injury cases.…

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